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No Doubt About It: State Spending Is Increasing

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The Houston Chronicle recently opined that a Legislative Budget Board (LBB) summary of state spending backs up the claim that Texas should spend “more money for everything from Medicaid to public schools.” In the process, the Chronicle criticizes budget calculations from the Texas Public Policy Foundation that were repeated by the Wall Street Journal.

The Chronicle’s criticism appears to be based on the supposition that the Foundation’s chart showing that the Legislature increased appropriations of general revenue/ESF funds by 24 percent this session doesn’t comport with the LBB’s table showing a decrease in adjusted spending over a 10 year period. But this comparison is flawed.

Missed by the Chronicle is the fact that the Foundation’s numbers have nothing to do with historical spending. Instead, they were about transparency; specifically, to reveal to the public the significant increase in appropriations in 2013 over 2011, which the public could not see using the “official” numbers from the LBB.

Underfunding Medicaid, delaying a payment to public schools, backfilling the budget, and taking spending from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund off-budget all worked together to hide how much money the state had spent in 2011 and was spending in 2013. Our “session spending” approach simply helped Texans see through the budget gimmicks being used by the Texas Legislature. We made no claim about long-term trends in Texas spending; rather we claimed that Texas could have funded all of its needs in 2013, including water and transportation, without resorting to a raid on the state’s savings account.

We can have a debate about whether there’s a real need for Texas to boost spending. But the fact that state appropriations increased significantly from 2011 to 2013 is beyond dispute.